by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats are playing their penultimate game of the season today in Game 3 of their four-game set against the Tennessee Smokies.
The Smokies have the league’s best record and won both halves in the North Division, meaning they’ll have a potential four home games in their best-of-5 first-round playoff series with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. The Mudcats won’t finish with the league’s worst record because the Birmingham Barons were so much worse than the rest of the league in the first half.
It’s sunny and warm but not really hot, and on Zebulon Appreciation Day there’s a very decent crowd in the house. And of course there’s the last post-game fireworks show of the season.
James Avery (2-3) will take the hill for the Mudcats while Clayton High alumnus Chris Archer (8-2) is on the mound for the Smokies.
It's a good pitchers' duel, and the Smokies get the winning run in the eighth and clinch at least a tie in the series with a 3-2 victory.
Archer is set to go just two innings to set him up in the playoff rotation and he gets through them unscathed, allowing one hit while walking two with two strikeouts before Jeremy Papelbon comes on in relief.
The team play four shutout innings until the Smokies break through in the fourth, when Tony Thomas blasts a one-out, 2-0 pitch high over the wall down the left-field line.
The Smokies tack on another in the sixth. With one out Brett Jackson singles to center and steals second, followed by Brandon Guyer’s RBI single to left.
The Mudcats’ offense wakes up against James Leverton in the seventh, scoring twice to tie the score. Jake Kahaulelio leads off with a double to center, then advances on a one-out wild pitch before scoring on Cody Puckett’s single to center. Puckett steals second and advances to third on the throwing error from catcher Mark Reed, later scoring on Chris McMurray’s single to center.
But the Smokies get the winning run off Ruben Medina in the eighth. Jackson hits a one-out single to right, followed by Guyer’s single to left and a wild pitch before Blake Lalli brings him home on a grounder to short.
Guyer leads Tennessee’s 10-hit attack with two hits including a double for an RBI. Jackson scores the two runs on two hits. Papelbon pitches four shutout relief innings, striking out one with two hits and no walks, while Leverton picks up the win and Aaron Shafer his second save.
Avery gets the quality start, going six innings and allowing two runs on six hits with six strikeouts against a walk. Puckett’s two hits lead Carolina at the plate.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “Avery was good. That was probably his best performance. He felt good and had command of his fastball. That’s a good hitting team. I talked to him after the game and he was thrilled with the progress he’s made. He’s going to pitch in the (Arizona) Fall League, so he can take it through that and into next season. … Jake has had a great season. He had a setback with an injury, but he’s had a way better season than his average would show. I want him up in any situation. He can swing the bat. He’s a clutch player, really.”
Tennessee manager Bill Dancy: “We’re going to be very solid going into the playoffs. Fortunately we were able to keep the bulk of the middle of the lineup. Archer has been real outstanding since he’s joined us and he’s going to be the number one guy (in the playoff rotation). Offensively we’re going to be good. We’re a little bit left-handed heavy, but we’ve faced some pretty good left-handers down the stretch and held up pretty good.”
Archer: “My coaches have been saying all year ‘Keep doing what you’re doing and it will all fall into place’ and it’s worked out pretty well. Tonight was a good outing. I knew I had 30 pitches, and in my mind I was trying to be a little bit too fine at first. I wanted to get two innings so my friends and family could see me. It worked out pretty well.”
What does it all mean?
That the Smokies are keeping up their momentum heading into the playoffs, and that the Mudcats are still fighting despite their spot in the standings.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Jackson’s single in the eighth.
Tennessee leads 12-7.
Carolina: Lost 2.
Tennessee: Won 2.
Birmingham: Promoted RHP Alberto Cabrera from Daytona. Placed LHP Christopher Rusin on the disabled list.
Tennessee at Mudcats, 2 p.m.
TBA vs. Travis Webb (L, 6-8, 4.94)